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PTSD Treatment

Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment can help you regain a sense of control over your life. The primary treatment is psychotherapy, but often includes medication. Combining these treatments can help improve your symptoms, teach you skills to address your symptoms, help you feel better about yourself and learn ways to cope if any symptoms arise again.

Psychotherapy and medications can also help you if you've developed other problems related to your traumatic experience, such as depression, anxiety, or misuse of alcohol or drugs. You don't have to try to handle the burden of PTSD on your own.

Psychotherapy

Several types of psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, may be used to treat children and adults with PTSD. Some types of psychotherapy used in PTSD treatment include:

  • Cognitive therapy. This type of talk therapy helps you recognize the ways of thinking (cognitive patterns) that are keeping you stuck — for example, negative or inaccurate ways of perceiving normal situations. For PTSD, cognitive therapy often is used along with exposure therapy.

  • Exposure therapy. This behavioral therapy helps you safely face what you find frightening so that you can learn to cope with it effectively. One approach to exposure therapy uses "virtual reality" programs that allow you to re-enter the setting in which you experienced trauma.

  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR combines exposure therapy with a series of guided eye movements that help you process traumatic memories and change how you react to traumatic memories.

All these approaches can help you gain control of lasting fear after a traumatic event. You and your health care professional can discuss what type of therapy or combination of therapies may best meet your needs.

You may try individual therapy, group therapy or both. Group therapy can offer a way to connect with others going through similar experiences.

Medications

Several types of medications can help improve symptoms of PTSD:

  • These medications can help symptoms of depression and anxiety. They can also help improve sleep problems and concentration. The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil) are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for PTSD treatment.

  • Anti-anxiety medications. These drugs also can improve feelings of anxiety and stress for a short time to relieve severe anxiety and related problems. Because these medications have the potential for abuse, they are not usually taken long term.

  • If symptoms include insomnia or recurrent nightmares, a drug called prazosin (Minipress) may help. Although not specifically FDA-approved for PTSD treatment, prazosin may reduce or suppress nightmares in many people with PTSD.

You and your doctor can work together to figure out the best treatment, with the fewest side effects, for your symptoms and situation. You may see an improvement in your mood and other symptoms within a few weeks.

Tell your health care professional about any side effects or problems with medications. You may need to try more than one or a combination of medications, or your doctor may need to adjust your dosage or medication schedule before finding the right fit for you.

Coping and support

If stress and other problems caused by a traumatic event affect your life, see your health care professional. You also can take these actions as you continue with treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder:

  • Follow your treatment plan. Although it may take a while to feel benefits from therapy or medications, treatment can be effective, and most people do recover. Remind yourself that it takes time. Following your treatment plan will help move you forward.

  • Learn about PTSD. This knowledge can help you understand what you're feeling, and then you can develop coping strategies to help you respond effectively.

  • Take care of yourself. Get enough rest, eat a healthy diet, exercise and take time to relax. Avoid caffeine and nicotine, which can worsen anxiety.

  • Don't self-medicate. Turning to alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings isn't healthy, even though it may be a tempting way to cope. It can lead to more problems down the road and prevent real healing.

  • Break the cycle. When you feel anxious, take a brisk walk or jump into a hobby to re-focus.

  • Talk to someone. Stay connected with supportive and caring people — family, friends, faith leaders or others. You don't have to talk about what happened if you don't want to. Just sharing time with loved ones can offer healing and comfort.

  • Consider a support group. Ask your health professional for help finding a support group, or contact veterans' organizations or your community's social services system. Or look for local support groups in an online directory or in your phone book.

When someone you love has PTSD

The person you love may seem like a different person than you knew before the trauma — angry and irritable, for example, or withdrawn and depressed. PTSD can significantly strain the emotional and mental health of loved ones and friends.

Hearing about the trauma that led to your loved one's PTSD may be painful for you and even cause you to relive difficult events. You may find yourself avoiding his or her attempts to talk about the trauma or feeling hopeless that your loved one will get better. At the same time, you may feel guilty that you can't fix your loved one or hurry up the process of healing.

Remember that you can't change someone. However, you can:

  • Learn about PTSD. This can help you understand what your loved one is going through.

  • Recognize that withdrawal is part of the disorder. If your loved one resists your help, allow space and let your loved one know that you're available when he or she is ready to accept your help.

  • Offer to attend medical appointments. If your loved one is willing, attending appointments can help you understand and assist with treatment.

  • Be willing to listen. Let your loved one know you're willing to listen, but you understand if he or she doesn't want to talk.

  • Encourage participation. Plan opportunities for activities with family and friends. Celebrate good events.

  • Make your own health a priority. Take care of yourself by eating healthy, being physically active and getting enough rest. Take time alone or with friends, doing activities that help you recharge.

  • Seek help if you need it. If you have difficulty coping, talk with your doctor. He or she may refer you to a therapist who can help you work through your emotions.

  • Stay safe. Plan a safe place for yourself and your children if your loved one becomes violent or abusive.

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